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In praise of out-of-season fruit


Fat Guy
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Oh man are these cherries good.

I'm thinking of a certain scene in The Witches of Eastwick...with cherries...lots of cherries...lots and lots and lots of cherries....

It's a very visceral scene.

Be careful, Fat Guy. I know you've got a redhead in your entourage, so take inventory. If you spy a blonde and a brunette, put the cherries down. Just put the cherries down, man!

EDIT: to make something plural and to get you all to look.

Isn't it silly when someone tells you why they edited a post?

Edited by tanabutler (log)
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Yes, yes, I know "fresh, seasonal and local" is all the rage. Apparently even Canadians think it's a good idea, and they have eleven months of winter.

Ouch! :hmmm: that hurts Jason! clearly you are unfamiliar with a fresh "cloudberry" and a snowball is tasty too---open wide! :laugh:

Life! what's life!? Just natures way of keeping meat fresh - Dr. who

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I do find it amusing that Chez Panisse air freights crates of "locally-produced" vegetables from Chino Ranch way down in San Diego County. I don't think of San Diego as being local to me at all. Chez Panisse has sometimes been compared to restaurants in Provence or northern Italy. Imagine if Chez Panisse were in Nice, France. A comparable distance would be flying in vegetables from Brussels, Belgium (512 miles) or Algiers, Algeria (528 miles). Local? I say do the Alice Waters thing and put that Chilean produce on a plane inbound.

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Fat Guy. There are very few things I enjoy more than red cherries. You whetted my appetite for them. I was at our local Walmart last night and lo and behold they had them. They looked pretty good and I bought a good sized bag. They weren't awful, but on the other hand they had next to no taste. To compare them to what we get around here, especially around July is like comparing a freshly picked ear of corn to a frozen one from Birdseye. Maybe I just got a tasteless batch.

Porkpa

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There's an icicle hanging outside my window that's taller than me by half.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I, too, like to buy locally-produced food, direct from the producer when possible, but we can't assume that local = organic/sustainable/etc. and non-local = mass-produced/drenched in pesticides/etc. Certainly with local foods it is often easier to determine the growing practices, which may not be what we assumed them to be.

allison

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I would just like to take a moment to thank all those who toiled during the human race's first few hundred thousand years of misery so that I could have anesthesia, electricity, a reasonable expectation of living past age 27, and Costco's cherries from Chile in January.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I, too, like to buy locally-produced food, direct from the producer when possible, but we can't assume that local = organic/sustainable/etc. and non-local = mass-produced/drenched in pesticides/etc. Certainly with local foods it is often easier to determine the growing practices, which may not be what we assumed them to be.

Especially in the colder climes, much of the "fresh, seasonal, local" produce is grown in hothouses. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But if you have to grow something in a hothouse it ain't seasonal.

In the overwhelming majority of places where humans live, there is not and could not be enough "fresh, seasonal, local" food produced to prevent famine. Some places in the world are really good for living; some places are really good for growing stuff; a few places are good for both but most are not. So we live in some places and we grow stuff in other places. This is a really nice system. I'm in favor of it. It's very nice that well-to-do people with discretionary income can buy a little bit of "fresh, seasonal, local" produce and support all those nice farmers and greenmarkets, but most of what they eat comes from afar anyway: wheat, rice, meat, chocolate, coffee, pepper, vanilla . . .

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And what about people who live in climes that are generally inhospitable for growing much of anything? My BIL lives in Anchorage, and I was astonished to see the produce department at a local super, in December, stocking not only fresh fruits and veggies, but grapes, fresh herbs, and the whole array that you'd find at pretty much any other supermarket in the country. Not cheap, no, and certainly not local (at least I don't think they can grow oranges in Anchorage :blink: ). Their growing season is by nature very short, and they do get some great local produce due to their long, long days in summer. But I did have to wonder what it took to ship all that produce (and milk, butter, frozen food, flour, etc.) from wherever it came from to the suburbs of Alaska, just so my 2 1/2 year old nephew can eat grapes in December.

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Fat Guy is probably right. I can think of no clearly convincing rational reason for eating seasonally and locally--particularly if you think your only choice is between crappy trucked-in Safeway produce and crappy shipped-in Chilean. The standard arguments are full of holes. Eating seasonally and locally is not better for you, at least not in any medically measurable way. It’s not always necessarily cheaper, though I think in the long run buying things at the peak of the harvest usually is. And it doesn’t always taste better—there are plenty of mediocre farmers at even the best farmers market. In addition to eating seasonally and locally, you have to spend the time to find the good ones.

Furthermore, I have found that even trying to argue the point only gets up people’s noses. (This seems to be particularly true for New Yorkers, who believe themselves to be a unique race singularly blessed by a just and discerning god to receive the very best of everything. When something happens that hints otherwise, they begin hurling imprecations and shrieking heresies. It all gets so tiring.)

That said, and admitting in advance the futility of my effort, there are a couple of reasons that I find compelling for doing buying locally and seasonally. The first is structural, the other aesthetic.

The reason there is so much crappy produce in the stores today—honestly, wherever you live, not just in Manhattan—is complicated, stemming from historic, artistic and economic factors. But the single overriding factor it is there is that people continue to buy it. It’s like watching Fox or, god forbid, The WB. You watch because there’s nothing else on, the ratings go up, and good lord, here comes “Who’s Your Daddy.” Every time you choose an out-of-season cherry from Chile, you are encouraging someone to ship more of them in. At the same time, you are discouraging someone else from growing something better (it is always easier and more cost-effective to do shoddy work than good and agriculture is a zero-sum game).

The aesthetic argument is harder to pin down because it deals with notions of connoisseurship (which sounds so much nicer than the equally descriptive “geekiness”). Connoisseurship is not about consumption, but discernment. It’s not about satisfying your appetite, but educating it. And doing that means eating widely as well as deeply. A connoisseur is not someone who drinks only great Bordeaux; he also loves good Beaujolais. It’s not about loving truffles, but also appreciating a perfectly cooked Brussels sprout. Eating without regard for the season, your food choices naturally fall in a fairly narrow range of things you already know you like. You never discover anything outside those boundaries. You never stretch to understand. You may love something, but it’s only because you don’t know any better.

I have no ill feelings toward someone who chooses to eat Chilean cherries in January, but frankly it would never occur to me to do that. Why would I want cherries when I can have Meyer lemons, Oro Blanco grapefruits and those great little mandarins that are just coming in, or the last of the gala apples or Comice pears.

Which brings me to a third reason for eating seasonally, one that I really hesitate to bring up, since it verges on the theological. Maybe it’s just me turning 50, with the years seeming to whiz by, but I really find it comforting the way eating each of my favorite foods in their own time slows down the clock. Cherries will be here in due time (about the middle of February, in fact). I can wait. And then will come good strawberries. Before you know it, we’ll start getting Blenheim apricots. Why in the world would you want to rush things?

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The reason there is so much crappy produce in the stores today—honestly, wherever you live, not just in Manhattan—is complicated, stemming from historic, artistic and economic factors. But the single overriding factor it is there is that people continue to buy it. It’s like watching Fox or, god forbid, The WB. You watch because there’s nothing else on, the ratings go up, and good lord, here comes “Who’s Your Daddy.” Every time you choose an out-of-season cherry from Chile, you are encouraging someone to ship more of them in. At the same time, you are discouraging someone else from growing something better (it is always easier and more cost-effective to do shoddy work than good and agriculture is a zero-sum game).

The aesthetic argument is harder to pin down because it deals with notions of connoisseurship (which sounds so much nicer than the equally descriptive “geekiness”). Connoisseurship is not about consumption, but discernment. It’s not about satisfying your appetite, but educating it. And doing that means eating widely as well as deeply. A connoisseur is not someone who drinks only great Bordeaux; he also loves good Beaujolais. It’s not about loving truffles, but also appreciating a perfectly cooked Brussels sprout. Eating without regard for the season, your food choices naturally fall in a fairly narrow range of things you already know you like. You never discover anything outside those boundaries. You never stretch to understand. You may love something, but it’s only because you don’t know any better.

Which brings me to a third reason for eating seasonally, one that I really hesitate to bring up, since it verges on the theological. Maybe it’s just me turning 50, with the years seeming to whiz by, but I really find it comforting the way eating each of my favorite foods in their own time slows down the clock. Cherries will be here in due time (about the middle of February, in fact). I can wait. And then will come good strawberries. Before you know it, we’ll start getting Blenheim apricots. Why in the world would you want to rush things?

BUT if we will agree that Steven's Chilean cherries are not as wonderfully fine as NY's own April's fare, can we at least acknowledge that sometimes, someway, a viable foodie might desire cherries in jan? Perhaps not the greatest cherries int he world, but very good cherries nonetheless? WHERE is the defense of diversity, variety...

Russ, regarding point one: demand creates desire: true. point two: connessuiers: baloney. A person with a varied range of food preferences is going to want them outside the proscribed parameters: let's go back to the very basic idea of asparagus in January..DON"T tlell me you've never bought it...go one step further...lamb is naturally slaughtered inSpring..but I have it at least one sunday a month, yearround...absolutely no difference.....and pont three, the seasons of our lives being measured by the seasons of our food...OH RUSS...that is a 70 year old man's thoughts..not a 50! :shock: Let your families traditions and holidays be the harbinger of time...not what is in the markets. :wink:

Edited by Kim WB (log)
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I have to agree that eating seasonally holds a certain nostalgia for me. One summer on the eastern shore of maryland I ate these amazing baby lima beans for weeks, accompanied by sweet white corn and tomatoes. I can't have limas without thinking about those hot summer suppers on the porch.

Eating seasonally just seems to make sense. In winter I crave potatoes and brussel sprouts and there is nothing like fresh peas and articokes in spring. And if I want cherries in December I'll buy them, season or not. But usually I'm too busy enjoying chestnuts or figs or mache in their seasons.

Looking at seasonality has also taught me a lot about cooking. Foods that come to market at the same time often compliment each other, even when they are not things you might normally think of pairing. My classic example is butternut squash and apple, another might be apricots and pistachios. This isn't always true, but I have learned a lot by just going to the market, picking out what looks good, and then seeing what I can come up with for dinner.

If you have ever lived in much of the third world, something being fresh takes on a whole new meaning. Limited distribution and preservation means you have to eat seasonally and locally and you will notice the difference. You want orange juice, there it is, squeezed on site, ice cream just churned, fresh almonds cracked from their green shells.

The shorter the season, the more I anticipate certain foods. Rhubarb, nectarines, kumquats. There is a certain thrill to pomegranates in winter and late summer tomatoes. Delicate figs, as soon as I would spot the first place selling them in their short season I would have to stop and buy a box full. They were so good, we would eat them until we got sick.

So, I'm not against eating out of season, I choose my produce on what is good and flavorful. These days, the way groceries are it just might be cherries in December, so eat and enjoy. But I try and shop at farmers markets and I find that my senses, emotions, and tastes tend to lead me to eating seasonally naturally.

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So there I was, eating my cherries, thinking about Russ's structural and aesthetic arguments and trying to figure out with which I disagree more, when I noticed on the box that these cherries are distributed by a company called Columbia Marketing International, with an address of 2525 Euclid Ave. Wenatchee, WA 98807. What's going on here? The Washington cherry people couldn't possibly be selling cherries from Chile. Well, yes, they could and are. A look at the Columbia Marketing International website ( http://www.cmiapples.com/ ) indicates that this company, which handles 10% of the cherries grown in Washington, sells Washington produce in season and apples, pears and cherries from Chile and Argentina when Washington produce is not in season. Of course, for all I know CMI is some awful corporation, but the zero sum equation doesn't look so simple when the fruit packers in Washington are selling cherries from Chile. And while I think it's wonderful that people in California want to support their local producers, I'd like to point out that those local producers, as well as the entire state of California, would go bankrupt tomorrow if everybody else in the world only bought local produce. The future is simply not going to arrange itself according to a Von Thunen-like model of concentric development where each city has a core, some suburbs, and a bunch of farms growing produce for that population. It wouldn't even be doable if you mandated it by totalitarian decree, and certainly it's not going to happen ever, so forget it. The train has left the station, the truck has left the loading dock, the ship has set sail, etc., on the reality that for the next few centuries we're likely to be shipping food all over the place.

The idea of living with the seasons seems nice, especially the virtuous program of self-imposed deprivation whereby one eats only specified foods at specified times, but come on, are any of these foods really local? They've been schlepped from Europe, Asia, the cradle of civilization, wherever. They've been hybridized -- even those "heirloom" varietals -- and forced to grow on schedules determined by man in places where nature never intended them to be. You can grow anything in a hothouse if you feel like paying for it to be done. The exercise in line-drawing based on geography ignores some big issues like, well, like geography. I have a fruit schedule too, it's just that mine is based on what's available at Fairway and Costco -- institutions no more artificial than farms, as far as I'm concerned.

And you know, I buy lots and lots and lots of local produce. I love local produce. There are these nice hippie-commie farmers, Debbie and Pete Kavakos, who provide the produce for the Yorkville CSA. During summers when we're not traveling, we sign up for a share of the CSA and every week we go to the Church of the Heavenly Rest and pick up black plastic garbage bags full of fruit covered in fresh, seasonal, local dirt. We read all the CSA propaganda while we frantically try to figure out what to do with 20 heads of lettuce. I shop at the Union Square Greenmarket too, when I'm not engaging in my futile personal boycott on account of retrograde management practices. All told, I'm sure I spend more money on local produce per person in my household than 99% of people in my demographic. My diet is so diverse the vitamin companies should be studying me. But there's a difference between buying local produce and buying only local produce. Because right now it's January for crying out loud. The is no local produce, or at least not much. A couple of hundred years ago at this time of year around here people just didn't eat anything fresh -- they ate stuff from jars, and they ate roots, or they starved to death. It was ugly. Now we have cherries from Chile. Thank you lord for my cherries from Chile. I promise if you give them to me every year I will never, ever question the aesthetics of shipping cherries halfway around the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Which brings me to a third reason for eating seasonally, one that I really hesitate to bring up, since it verges on the theological. Maybe it’s just me turning 50, with the years seeming to whiz by, but I really find it comforting the way eating each of my favorite foods in their own time slows down the clock. Cherries will be here in due time (about the middle of February, in fact). I can wait. And then will come good strawberries. Before you know it, we’ll start getting Blenheim apricots. Why in the world would you want to rush things?

This is actually the reason why I try to eat seasonally (although I will admit to occasionally buying out-of-season cherries :shock: ). It's that idea of slowing things down a bit and really enjoying what's available. To me, spring and summer fruits just taste that much better when I've gone without for 10 months.

Now, I fully realize that the meyer lemons I buy have travelled across the continent and my clementines have crossed the Atlantic but even they taste special because I only get them for a brief period.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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I hear if you lock yourself in a closet for a week without food or light, everything tastes really good when you get out.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Is there really a categorical difference between shipping from Washington and shipping from Chile?

Use a refractometer to test the quality of the fruit. This is the gadget that vintners use to test the sugar level in grapes. They squeeze a little juice on the lens and look towards the sun. They see the sugar level of the fruit (measured in degrees BRIX) and they can then decide when to pick. Some chefs even use this tool to bring a fruit up to the desired sugar level if it's not quite there. (Ahem, Thomas Keller.)

All fruits and vegetables can be measured in this manner for optimal sweetness (BRIX). For cherries, it'll measure between 14 and 16.

Buy your stuff, squeeze some juice on to the lens and measure the BRIX. Keep a log of the date and source and report your findings next year. "You cannot buy---nor grow---good food until you can first identify good food…"

The comparitive problem with this test (categorical difference between shipping) is that you don't know what the BRIX was when the item was picked. However, if cherries from Chile are consistently between 12 and 14, and cherries from Washington are consistently between 14 and 16, then some conclusions can be drawn.

Also, take a look at The Psychology of Food, more than a matter of taste by Bernard Lyman, Ph.D. It offers documented test results on questions such as this.

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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gallery_500_603_1105625537.jpg

The icicle is now about twenty feet long.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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...Which brings me to a third reason for eating seasonally, one that I really hesitate to bring up, since it verges on the theological. Maybe it’s just me turning 50, with the years seeming to whiz by, but I really find it comforting the way eating each of my favorite foods in their own time slows down the clock. Cherries will be here in due time (about the middle of February, in fact). I can wait. And then will come good strawberries. Before you know it, we’ll start getting Blenheim apricots. Why in the world would you want to rush things?

Russ, you captured my feelings perfectly. [Disclaimer: another old fart talking. I turned 50 a few years ago.] There is a rhythm in life that comes from eating seasonally. It is a continuation of the rhythm that comes from eating turkey on Thanksgiving or latkes during Hanukkah. I might make turkey another time of the year, but I don't serve it the same way-with stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all of the other traditional side dishes. That's Thanksgiving dinner, and the anticipation is half the fun of it! In the same way, eating strawberry shortcake in January feels "wrong" to me. To me, that's a dessert that should be eaten on one of the first warm spring evenings. It should still be light outside, and the windows should be open. Why? For the slightly illogical reason that that's the way we ate it when I was growing up in central California. My Mom and Grandma may be long gone, but when I'm eating that first strawberry shortcake of the season, they're back at the table with me.

...I have no ill feelings toward someone who chooses to eat Chilean cherries in January, but frankly it would never occur to me to do that. Why would I want cherries when I can have Meyer lemons, Oro Blanco grapefruits and those great little mandarins that are just coming in, or the last of the gala apples or Comice pears...

It would never occur to me to eat cherries in January either. I think that's one of the differences about living in California. We have local produce in season all twelve months, and our Farmer's Markets are open year-round. Fat Guy's post brought that home to me; his CSA doesn't grow food 12 months of the year. We have enormous stores (the Berkeley Bowl is one famous example) that are primarily produce stores where you can also buy other items. Since I've never lived outside of California, it's hard for me to imagine a life where going to a supermarket or a Costco to purchase fruits and vegetables was your only option in the winter. So, those of us in California are happy to share; please go to the store and buy lots of that underripe and over-priced produce we ship to you. Our state's economy needs you! :wink:

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the seasons of our lives being measured by the seasons of our food...OH RUSS...that is a 70 year old man's thoughts..not a 50!

Jeez. I eat things out of season, but I am totally down with Russ' sentiment here. And I'm 29. So there.

"went together easy, but I did not like the taste of the bacon and orange tang together"

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...lamb is naturally slaughtered inSpring..but I have it at least one sunday a month, year round...absolutely no difference.....

Again, to put things into a Californian's perspective: I used to drive through the backroads of Sonoma County every week, past lots of sheep pastures. There were baby lambs all year long; the mothers seemed to successfully have just as many frolicking baby lambs in the middle of our not-too-cold California winters as they did during our foggy, not-too-hot California summers. So, somewhere lambs only survived in the spring, hence the concept of "spring lamb"-but that's not true here. We can get local lamb all year long.

Edited to add: Yeah, I did used to feel kinda guilty about eating little baby lamb chops after seeing those cute little lambs running around playing with each other. I justified it by telling myself the farmers weren't raising them as pets.

:rolleyes:

Edited by marie-louise (log)
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Melkor and I bought a 1/4 cow (kind of an odd concept when it's put that way) from a local rancher last year. At that ranch, as well as most others we looked at, cows are slaughtered only during the summer and fall. We ate some of the meat fresh, and froze the rest. So this meat was local, sustainable, not organic, cheaper than meat from a grocery store, and since we ate it from the freezer, not really seasonal. Does it disrupt the natural rhythms of the season to eat frozen meat during the winter? Beef stew sure feels seasonal in January....

allison

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Russ, regarding point one: demand creates desire: true. point two: connessuiers: baloney. A person with a varied range of food preferences is going to want them outside the proscribed parameters: let's go back to the very basic idea of asparagus in January..DON"T tlell me you've never bought it...go one step further...lamb is naturally slaughtered inSpring..but I have it at least one sunday a month, yearround...absolutely no difference.....and pont three, the seasons of our lives being measured by the seasons of our food...OH RUSS...that is a 70 year old man's thoughts..not a 50! :shock:  Let your families traditions and holidays be the harbinger of time...not what is in the markets.  :wink:

well kim, actually, i don't buy asparagus in january. sorry. i don't see the need. as for lamb being slaughtered in spring ... well, no, sorry, that was true 100 years ago but not now. california lamb is slaughtered in fall; furthermore most lamb that we buy today would actually be more appropriatedly called "young sheep". beyond that, it's important to remember that my defense of seasonality is not totally "woo-woo", but is based on buying what is best in its time--there is a big difference to me between asparagus, which is at its best in the first flush and which degrades quickly during shipping, and meat, which is relatively constant (fish is a different story).

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